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Electronic Recycling Up via eCycling Leadership Initiative

Words by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment

Over 4.6 million tons of e-waste ended up in U.S. landfills in 2000 according to the EPA. On average, an American household has 25 different electronic products, most of which will someday wind up needing to be recycled. The problem with electronic waste is that the toxic chemicals, like mercury, in the electronics can leach into the land or be released into the atmosphere. Thankfully, electronic recycling is increasing. In fact, last year 460 million pounds of electronics were recycled, a 53 percent increase over the 300 million pounds recycled in 2010, according to the first annual report of the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) eCycling Leadership Initiative.

The CEA launched the eCycling Leadership Initiative on April 13, 2011 with a dozen electronics companies with the goal of recycling one billion pounds electronics a year by 2016. One billion pounds of electronics would fill about 88.9 million cubic feet, equivalent to a 71,000 seat NFL stadium. The amount of drop-off locations increased nationwide to almost 7,500 last year from just over 5,000 in 2010, and 96 percent of the recycling done by the Initiative participants, by the end of last year, was conducted in third-party certified recycling facilities

The Initiative wants to go beyond the billion pounds by 2016 goal. As Walter Acorn, CEA’s vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability, says, “The eCycling Leadership initiative is an ongoing, permanent initiative that will follow the best practices and commitment of industry, including practices that prohibit the use of recyclers and downstream processors who dump end-of-life electronics in developing nations.” Alcorn adds, “We want to make recycling electronics just as easy as purchasing electronics.”

The Initiative holds participants to a higher standard and seeks national regulations

Some electronic waste is exported to developing countries, as Greenpeace points out. The problem with dumping electronic waste in developing countries is that they are not likely to have hazardous waste sites. The Initiative prohibits participating electronic manufacturers and retailers from using “recyclers and downstream processors who irresponsibly dispose of electronics, whether here or abroad,” the CEA's website states.

Part of the reason so much of the electronic waste wound up in either U.S. or overseas landfills is lack of regulations, and differing state regulations. One of the goals of the initiative is to “push for a national solution to eCycling that will eliminate the costly and confusing patchwork of state regulations,” as Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CEA, says.

Photo: Wikipedia user, AvWijk